The February 20, 2011 edition of Ancestry.com’s Weekly Discovery noted that United States Military Post Returns dating from 1806 through 1916 had been updated, complete with a free index at Ancestry.com. That got me to thinking about my great-grandfather, and led to some remarkable discoveries.

My great-grandfather, Henry Canfield, fought with volunteer Michigan Cavalry throughout the Civil War. As the war ended, he reenlisted and according to family lore, went west, dying at Camp Douglas in Salt Lake City in March of 1866. Over the last 30 years, I’ve done a lot of research on Henry, and have pulled together a fair amount of material on the man. The posting of the US Military Post returns has placed records in my hands that I saw at the National Archives in Washington D.C. in the summer of 1982. At the time, I made note of some of the information, did not see it all, and wished many times over the years that I’d spent more time and gotten copies of documents. I now have those documents and more…

In searching the Returns from Military Posts, 1806-1916 collection, I located documents relating to Henry Canfield in post returns of Fort Collins, Colorado, as well as Camp Douglas, Utah. The returns noting 1st Lieutenant Henry Canfield were dated from July 9, 1865 through March of 1866.

With this information, as well as numerous other records, I’m currently writing an article that be will published in the July/August issue of Family Chronicle – telling the story of my great-grandfather’s final months in the service, and the records I used to document those months.

I located 17 documents in the Military Post database all listing Henry Canfield. The earlier returns, from Fort Collins, Colorado, dealt with his service keeping stage routes open, then being on court martial duty in Denver, and by January of 1866 (in Camp Douglas returns), being sick, and dying in March of 1866. The example below lists 1st Lieut. Henry Canfield with the 7th Michigan Cavalry as absent on detached service commanding Company B at Coopers Creek, Dakota Territory. Note that I found the documents using a variety of spellings for Henry’s name – Canfield, Caufield, Camfield, and Harry as well as Henry. I also browsed the images.

Fort Collins Colorado Territory July 1865 Post Return

The following is from the Ancestry.com website:
About U.S., Returns from Military Posts, 1806-1916
This database contains returns from U.S. military posts from the early 1800′s to 1916, with a few returns extending through 1917.
Army Regulations stipulated that every post was to submit a return to the Adjutant General, usually at monthly intervals. These returns showed:

  • The units stationed at each post
  • The strength of each unit
  • Names and duties of the officers
  • Number of officers present and absent
  • Listing of official communications received
  • Record of events

This information was returned on forms provided by the Office of the Adjutant General. Over the years, several changes were made to the forms, but the general information recorded was the same. In the earlier years some returns were sent on manuscript forms. These manuscript forms followed the format of the printed forms. Earlier post returns also used the same forms as the regimental and organizational returns.

While most of the records in this collection consist of monthly post returns, some additional records, such as morning reports, field returns, rosters of officers, and other related papers, have been mixed in. These additional records provide supplemental information or act as substitutes for missing returns. Records are available for military posts in all 50 states, Washington D.C., Cuba, Panama Canal Zone, Philippine Islands, Puerto Rico, Canada, China, and Mexico.

Ancestry.com. U.S., Returns from Military Posts, 1806-1916 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2009. This collection was indexed by Ancestry World Archives Project contributors in partnership with the following organizations:

  • California State Genealogical Alliance
  • Federation of Genealogical Societies
  • Nebraska State Genealogy Society
  • New England Historic Genealogical Society
  • San Antonio Genealogical and Historical Society
  • SFGenealogy.com

Original data:
Returns From U.S. Military Posts, 1800-1916; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M617, 1,550 rolls); Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780’s-1917, Record Group 94; National Archives, Washington, D.C..

See if you can find your ancestor in these records.